Match Coverage

Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal – Guardiola outfoxes Wenger in deserved win

Manchester city faced Arsenal at the Etihad in Gameweek 11 of the Premier League with the chance to go 8 points clear at the top of the table. Both teams were coming of the back of securing qualification from the group stages in their respective European competitions with City qualifying away at Napoli while Arsenal drew with Red Star Belgrade to advance to the Europa League round of 32. With two managers committed to playing offensive football (despite Wenger becoming more conservative in recent years) the clash made for an interesting spectacle.


Manchester City: 4-3-3
Ederson / Walker – Stones – Otamendi – Delph / Fernandinho – De Bryune – Silva / Sterling – Sané – Aguero

Arsenal: 5-3-2/5-4-1
Cech / Bellerin – Koscielny – Coquelin – Monreal – Kolasinac / Xhaka – Ramsey – Ozil – Iwobi / Sanchez

One of the interesting things about the game was that City – at least in the opening moments of the game – had a strong emphasis on counter attacking Arsenal. Usually when a Guardiola team wins the ball, the seek to first recirculate the ball and build their attack with an optimal structure, in this game however, City sought to break in numbers whenever they won back the ball either in midfield or in defense.

This is moments before Sané creates the chance for Sterling; Stones turns over the ball in midfield and immediately, City break at speed with 5 players joining the attack. This was to utilize the space left by the Arsenal wing-backs Bellerin and Kolasinac as they provided the width during Arsenal’s attacking moments.

Another example of City breaking at speed, this time with 6 players joining the attack ending in Aguero shot.


For their attacking scheme, Arsenal tried to eliminate City’s high press as a factor in the game as City would press all the centre-backs during goal kicks with the full-backs maintaining a pressing distance to the wingbacks; Arsenal therefore decided to adopt a low risk approach and tried to start play in City’s half by using long balls from the goalkeeper and aggressively attacking the second balls. The narrow positioning of Ozil and Iwobi lent itself to this tactic and City also sought to counteract it by dropping Fernandinho into the back line during such long balls and having Silva and Kevin De Bryune make a backward press to recover the second ball.

When they were able to have sustained possession however, Arsenal sought to circulate on one side to shift the City block there and quickly switch the ball to the far side where the wing-back would be free to receive due to the narrow nature of City’s defending.

City in their 4-4-2 pressing shape inside their own half, Arsenal circulate to Coquelin and switch to Bellerin on the far side as Sane has tucked in to track Ramsey.


Arsenal pressed in a 5-1-3-1/5-4-1 shape which sometimes became a 5-3-2 with Ozil occasionally joining Sanchez on the first line.

Arsenal in the 5-4-1 shape with Ozil and Iwobi tucking in to complete the midfield line.

The Gunners also tried to high press City on the edge of their own box during goal kicks. The City centre-backs would split wide with Fernandinho holding his position on the edge of the box, the Arsenal inside forwards would stay in the half space to maintain a pressing distance to the centre-backs while blocking easy progression routes into the 8s. From this position they would press the centre-backs with a curved run.

Arsenal’s high press with City dropping De Bryune to use him to find Walker and progress from there.

City dealt with this by dropping the ball-side 8 (usually Kevin as they primarily built from the right-hand side) and using him as a link player to find the momentarily free full-back who would advance against the Arsenal’s wing-back’s onward press with a dynamic advantage.

This game featured something different from City’s previous matches against Chelsea and Napoli, with City deploying inverted full-backs during build-up to outnumber the opposition midfield and progress the ball cleanly. However, in this game, the full-backs (Walker and Delph) only inverted when City had the ball ahead of them in Arsenal’s defensive third – the reason for this was clear, to stop Arsenal counter attacking through the half-spaces after turnovers and also to improve City’s counter pressing structure.

See as Delph and Walker have inverted into the half-space as City seek to counter press immediately after losing the ball in Arsenal’s box.

As City began breaking Arsenal’s line more, usually with ground passes from the centre-backs into the feet of the free 8s, Arsenal switched from a flat 5-4-1 to a 5-1-3-1 shape with Xhaka guarding the space between the lines where City positioned Silva and De Bruyne.

Arsenal in their 5-1-3-1 shape with Xhaka orienting himself to Silva between the lines.

City made good use of the resultant narrowness of the Arsenal midfield and constantly switched the play, re-circulated to the other side and combined through the gaps that appeared as the Arsenal block tried to shift again to the ball side.

This is how the first goal came about with City switching from side to side and De Bryune playing a one two to exploit the space which had opened up after the switch.


In the second half, City went 2-0 up thanks to a Kun Aguero penalty and then began to take the sting out of Arsenal with some patient passing. They would move the ball to one side, invite the Arsenal press and then quickly circulate to the other side and attempt to break through. If unable, they would then repeat the sequence thereby establishing a cycle of dominance and control as Arsenal struggled to get any attacking momentum. Arsenal brought on Lacazette and got a goal back, but City held on for an important win, even adding further gloss to the score line with Jesus tapping home late on.

With all the talk about refs and what not, this was a very dominant performance from City against a difficult rival as evidenced by their runaway expected goals score.

City expected goals value courtesy of @11tegen11.

The win leaves the Blues 8 points clear at the top of the table heading into the international break, and on this form, they’ll take some stopping.

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